Posts Tagged ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day’

Today is the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the train. We’ll have 80 for the final banquet tonight.

I am here in Louisville, KY at the reunion of 12 WW2 soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division and 5 Holocaust survivors who were given new life by these guys 68 years ago. And lots of 2nd generation and 3rd generation-sons and daughters, children and grandchildren, many here meeting their liberators for the first time.

In many ways it is a spiritual event.

Frank gave the introduction and described his role in transporting the prisoners from the train to safety. I spoke on how there were too many random “quirks of fate” to attribute this present gathering to coincidence. Had my wishes come true, and had I never returned to my hometown as I had hoped when I left it for college, the room would have been half empty. I would have never interviewed the tank commander who told me his story. None of these survivors would have known the rest of the story, so to speak; perhaps the soldiers too-

John D. thanked me afterward, describing his time carrying his rifle across Europe as a combat infantryman nearly seventy years ago. He told me now he knows, after meeting the survivors that he helped to liberate, what the true meaning of FREEDOM is, and what he fought for. He thanked me, a teacher. I resisted. He insisted. That about blew me away.

There was more to come.

Kurt and Gideon, “new” survivors, gave testimony for the first time to their liberators. Emotional. True freedom. Kurt remarked that he felt it when the Americans uttered “One Only” as nearly two dozen survivors were shown a clean room after liberation and proceed to attempt to occupy it. To be able to close the door when entering a bathroom, alone.

Eve, Kurt’s daughter, remarked through tears how she knew emotions would overwhelm, but she carried on and read fellow 2nd Generation survivor Sandy’s poem “I am a Survivor”.

She spoke of how difficult it was to grow up, with her two loving parents, knowing what they had been through-how do you, as a teen,  issue the normal teenage complaints when your parents had had it so much worse when they were your age? She ends beaming at her audience through wet eyes, the soldiers of World War II and their families who are returning the love in spades over this weekend.

Later I was very moved at Friday dinner when Gideon’s daughter gathered the children and others in the front, after calling our attention, and thanking God for these soldiers coming into their lives on April 13, 1945 and again now. Candles were lit, prayers were said, and Shabbat was ushered in, and we broke bread together, Gentile and Jew, survivor and soldier, sharing laughter and tears.

More later. For now would like to leave you with an account of the liberation by survivor Aliza Vitis-Shomron, who was recently featured in an AP article about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. She, too, was a teen in the spring of 1945…


In Bergen Belsen

It is spring outside. The news we get from the older German soldiers who treat us humanely is that the end is approaching. Beyond the fence of the Dutch camp there is an open field. The wind brings in a horrible smell from there. In the distance we can see circles of smoke rising, and dark figures busy round the fire. What are they carrying? They are corpses for which there is no room in the crematorium, they are burning them on the ground one by one. Their ashes mingle with the soil, the rain creates human mud.

“All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” – said the Lord.

Maybe that is God’s will – if He exists at all.

Human beings: beautiful, with black eyes, blue eyes; writers, teachers, students, disappointed lovers, proud, cowardly, selling fish on the market, fathers and mothers and those who had not yet tasted love. “The Chosen Jewish People” burnt like dung in the field.

At the beginning of 1945 the winter was hard. What may have saved us from starvation and death were the Red Cross parcels that arrived in March.

At the beginning of spring 1945 the cannons thundered. We felt that the end for the Germans was near, and there were many indications that it was so. The main one was that they stopped giving us food. Every day we stood at the fence along the main road, waiting for the soup which came late, often only in the evening.

Evacuation from Bergen-Belsen

Allied planes fly above us making a dull sound and there is nothing to stop them. A few days ago there was an air battle between English and German planes, right above the camp. I hid with the others under the bunks, not that I was afraid, but a shrewd thought was on my mind: Now, just before liberation and the end of the war, I could be killed by an allied bullet or bomb…

I am sure there is no God, only chance rules my life. There is no one to pray to, no one to beg – maybe my lucky star that has protected me until now will continue to do so… Will I manage to survive? A sweet feeling of revenge fills me as I realize that our murderers are also suffering and being killed! My strength        has waned, my feet are swollen from hunger, I have become apathetic to my surroundings.

On the 8th [7th] April, an unexpected order came to prepare for evacuation. We heard the thunder of cannons in the distance, they said that the city of Hanover was in the hands of the allied armies. And they are approaching the little town of Celle. Evacuation? Where? To the gas chambers?

There was a terrible smell in the air. I was hardened, cynical, no longer capable of feeling anything. After the terrible murders in Block Ten, adjacent to us, nothing could move me. I remembered I had to survive to tell the world about my friends. I hugged my mother and sister. They mustn’t separate us!

Mother consults uncle Leon Melamed. Aunt Irena, practical as usual, is already packing the most important things. “There is nothing we can do,” she says with typical decisiveness. “We have no choice. There is no point in staying in a camp that is no longer getting supplies of food. We’ll starve before they come to liberate us.” We agree with her. We get into a long line, men, women and the children who are with us, hundreds of Jews from various blocks.

The people’s faces mainly express uncertainty and acceptance of the situation. We again pass by the piles of skeletons, new ones every day. In the huge concentration camp on the other side of the road we see shadowy figures moving.

Mother and I take the few remaining clothes, the notes I have written in the camp and on the Aryan side, and a passport photo of father. We have no personal documents, nothing reminiscent of our previous life. Mother has only a silver fruit knife that she took with us when we went to the “selektzia” in Warsaw. My legs won’t carry me. We have to go eight kilometers to the railway station in Celle. The road seems endless, the body is weak and not used to moving. Every step calls for an inhuman effort. We crawl along slowly.

Gavriela is carrying her five-year-old brother on her back. Her face is red with the effort. The child has no strength left, he is apathetic. Their mother walks beside them and slaps him gently on his face. Her legs are also swollen from hunger. I walk on. I can’t help them, I have no strength left.

Suddenly a man walks up to me. I recognize him: It is my neighbor, from the next bunk. Without a word he puts his arms under my armpits and drags me along. I lean on him with all the weight of my body. I didn’t get to know him, although we “lived next door”; and now he is helping me!

Who can understand the depths of good and evil in the hearts of men! This small deed, the hand held out in support at a critical moment, imbued me with hope and strength to continue on my own.

People begin to drop their belongings. We also stop every fifteen minutes and sadly throw down a few things. At the end of the march my backpack only holds a little food and two or three items of underclothes.

This experience has affected my life-long attitude to things. Losing things or parting with them means nothing to me, causes me no sorrow. They certainly have no value in themselves, only if they are connected to some precious memory.

My legs are swollen and hurt. I can’t feel them any longer. I long to sit down, to rest, to close my eyes and disappear… I struggle constantly against this urge. Mother is dragging herself along, but walks erect, as always. Mirka walks along well. Suddenly we see railway carriages. Surprisingly, they are normal “pullmans”, not freight cars. The exhausted people lie down on the platform. At the station we are given a little food and water. The journey has begun.

The most precious turnips

We traveled by train for eight days. The train moved little, it remained standing a great deal. The frontline was everywhere and chaos all around us. German families flee with their belongings in all directions in carts and on foot. Have they been encircled? What a cheerful thought! Our leaders and various oracles, experts in solving riddles and interpreting rumors, say that the Germans want to use us as hostages. Besides our group, hundreds of Dutch, Greek and Hungarian Jews are with us on the train, all supposed to be exchanged, from the special camps in Bergen-Belsen. In the meantime the most important thing is to get hold of food.

During one of the stops I saw people jumping from the train and rolling down. I also wanted to do so, but my sister was quicker and out already. I joined her. We rolled down the high embankment to a wonderful pile of animal feed, yellow turnips. I filled up my dress feverishly, grabbing as much as I could carry and hop – climbed back. But at the moment when all the children and youth began climbing up, guards on the roof of the train opened fire on us. The Germans were apparently surprised and reacted late. I ran and lost my sister. I didn’t see a thing, but I was determined to get the turnips into the carriage. The bullets whistled around us, but I didn’t drop the turnips. I didn’t even look back to see who fell and who survived. Only on reaching the top, under cover, did I look back in great fear, in search of Mirka. She stood up next to me, trembling but smiling. We had food for the rest of the journey.

The danger is not over yet…

After a six-day journey we approached the frontline. We realized that we were apparently traveling southeast. The “experts” say that we are approaching a large city in central Germany, Magdeburg, on the banks of the Elbe.

One day the officer commanding the military escort called our representatives. He was well-mannered and received them politely. Hela Schüpper wrote in her book: “The commander took off his military cap and turned to the Jews in fear: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the end of the war is near. What shall we do?’

Engineer Solovieczyk advised him to surrender to the Allies and put up a white flag on the roof of the train.” Our representatives came back and described the amazing meeting excitedly: The German asked the Jews for advice! Maybe he’ll also ask them for help? That’s a good sign.

In the night the whole escort team fled, using the locomotive. What will happen now, to us? We were alone. Slowly, people started leaving the carriages, the train was standing in the middle of a field. I also got off, with my faithful friend Tusia (Rina Altbecker). We saw a small pond not far away, and “our people” were catching little fish there. Those among them with initiative found a tin, made a fire and cooked the fish. We joined in, glad to share the job.

We breathe fresh air, the sky is clear, it is spring. Although we are weak, exhausted by hunger, hope is reflected in all the faces. Of course, there are also some “ravens”, prophesying that the Germans will not give up as long as they can harm us, but who listens to them? Mother is also pessimistic.

Visiting a village

Mirka and I join the stream of people going to the nearby village of Ferstleben [Farsleben]. The village houses are pretty, clean, surrounded by gardens with fruit trees. We entered a garden in fulllbloom. I knocked on the door of the house. A woman wearing a big apron came out. Her face expressed amazement at the two figures facing her. Evidently we looked like ghosts.

“Kartofel, Kartofel, bitte,” (Potatoes, potatoes, please) I whispered. At that moment the woman started to scream. I didn’t understand a word. She pushed us out. I ran to the trees and began to shake them, so the blossoms fell off the branches. A large stone flew at me. We ran away.

That was the first and last time I asked for food. I felt ashamed. Mirka and I decided not to tell mother about it.

The fate of the certificates

That night we were right in the frontline. We spent the night lying under the carriages. We did not dare flee from there, there was nowhere to go. To hide in the German village? They’ll chase us away like dogs and hand us over to the authorities. We had no choice but to remain in the carriages and underneath them. Whatever happens to the others will also happen to us. Cannon shells flew above us with a terrifying noise. They may have aimed at the train… It was a miracle that we survived till the next morning.

Before dawn the locomotive returned with our escort. People who got out of the carriages in the morning were amazed to see lots of pieces of paper floating on the small pond. They looked strange, and they had not been there on the previous day. When they went to look at them, they were devastated: these were our certificates and other papers protecting us! So we did have such papers. It wasn’t just a deception by the Germans!

{After the war the mystery was solved: as I wrote, at the end of 1944 a group of two thousand Hungarian Jews from Budapest came to Bergen-Belsen, on their way to Switzerland. Our leaders gave them a list of our names, and they passed it on to the Swiss and Jewish institutions in Palestine, trying to save Jews. Apparently it was only then that they sent us the certificates; now at the end of the war, the Germans found them useless.}

But the Germans escorting us had a different plan for getting rid of us. They didn’t want to let the birds in their hands escape, even though the Allies had already encircled them on all sides.


Suddenly someone ran from carriage to carriage, screaming in terror: “The Germans want to drown the train in the river Elbe. Save yourselves!”

At the height of the panic, when we heard shots in the distance, we ran outside. People burst out of the carriages. Suddenly someone shouted:

“The Americans are coming!”

To our great surprise, a tank came slowly down the hill opposite, followed by another one. I ran towards the tank, laughing hysterically. It stopped. I embraced the wheels, kissed the iron plates.

The amazed soldier who came out called his friends and they immediately started throwing chocolate to us. They smiled in embarrassment and didn’t know what to do. We had won the war!

It was the 13th April 1945.

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Marc Silver

National Geographic News

Published April 8, 2013

 Note: This is from National Geographic. As the nations commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Week, I’ll be flying to Louisville for the annual 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World war II reunion to take part in the reuniting of 5 survivors with the division that liberated them. The 30th will also be honored with a flag in the annual national ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda. In April 2010 I was honored to be in attendance at the Rotunda ceremony with 121 liberators and dozens of survivors.

I will post more about these events later. In the meantime, if you have not read the news below, it is a staggering development.

The map of the Third Reich is being dramatically redrawn.

Thirteen years ago, when he started digging into the past to document the number and nature of Nazi-era ghettos and camps, scholar Geoffrey Megargee expected to identify perhaps 7,000 sites. He vastly underestimated his task. More than 42,200 sites will be named in the planned seven-volume encyclopedia that he is editing: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945.

This week is Holocaust remembrance week in the United States, with an official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on April 11 at 11 a.m. For the latest insights into the Nazi era, we spoke with Megargee and Martin Dean, editor of volume two of the encyclopedia: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe.

“To document this on a map and see how the Holocaust affected every single community throughout Europe makes quite clear the scope of the Nazi regime’s murder campaign,” says Dean.

Investigating the Sites

To be included in the encyclopedia, a site had to have housed at least 20 people and have been in existence for at least a month. In addition, it had to have been identified on a map—not the easiest thing to do when some towns in question have changed their names several times since  World War II ended.

The scholars drew upon past research and interviews with survivors but also sought records that have “disappeared into archives in a dozen different countries,” says Megargee. Many of the archives were behind the Iron Curtain until the 1990s, off limits to outside scholars. Even now some are restricted.

The sites include the extermination camps where gas chambers were built for “the final solution” of murdering the Jewish people. But that’s only part of the project’s scope.

“We’re not just looking at sites directly involved with the Holocaust,” says Megargee, “but [also] with the entire range of persecutory facilities that the Nazis and their allies ran.”

Forced Laborers Everywhere

Each listing has a careful yet hair-raising description of the site, drawing from records as well as survivor testimony. Many of the encyclopedia entries were forced labor camps.

“Think of what life was like in Germany,” Megargee says. “There were foreign forced laborers in every conceivable kind of business: farms, factories, retail shops, hospitals, railroads. You couldn’t go anywhere in Germany without encountering people being held against their will and forced to work. Their rights were being violated.”

And it would have been no secret to German citizens that these laborers were in their midst. “Even in a large city, you know who lives in your neighborhood—and who doesn’t,” Megargee says. “And you could see barracks where these forced laborers lived.”

Workers thought to be shirking their duties were sent to work education camps. They faced up to eight weeks of very hard labor along with beatings and possibly solitary confinement. If there was evidence of a change in behavior, the worker could go back to the forced labor camp. If not, he or she might be sent to a concentration camp.

The Work Education Camp Watenstedt-Salzgitter, established “in some woods just to the northeast of Hallendorf” in Germany, could hold about 800 female prisoners and 1,000 males at a time. The Encyclopedia entry mentions 492 documented deaths there in 1942 attributed to “weak heart” or “shot while trying to escape.” A survivor of the camp recalls an SS man “who beat the prisoners on their way to breakfast.” (There were Jewish inmates at this camp, but in most forced labor and work education camps in Germany, the internees were typically non-Jewish Europeans.)

Staggering Death Rate

Megargee says some of the categories of sites he found were “particularly surprising or horrible.” The so-called Care Facilities for Foreign Women and Their Children were essentially holding pens for female workers, typically from Eastern Europe, who had become pregnant. At an earlier stage in the Nazi regime, these women would have been sent home to have the child. After 1943, they were sent to the Care Facilities, where “the baby was either aborted or, after birth, would be killed by slow starvation,” says Megargee.

European Jews were first confined to ghettos. When the ghettos were shut down, most Jews were killed; only a few were selected for work and sent to forced labor and concentration camps, where they again were periodically selected to continue working or to be killed. The death rate for European Jews in the camps and ghettos was a “staggering” 90 percent, compared with 10 percent for the foreign workers held in German forced labor camps, Dean notes.

The Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos pays tribute to those many millions imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis by its memorialization of all the site names. On its pages a reader will find camps that few people have heard of, like the work camp at St. Martin’s Cemetery in Poznan, Poland, where Jews had to excavate Polish graves to look for gold teeth, jewelry, or brass, and even smash up the headstones for the Nazi war effort. And there are the infamous names etched in the world’s memory, like Auschwitz-Birkenau with its gas chambers.

“This is giving recognition to all of the thousands of places where people suffered and died,” says Martin, “that would otherwise fade from people’s consciousness.”


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I just got home from a Yom Hashoah event, Holocaust Remembrance, that was pretty intense.

Three American candles.You know that when folks come up after you speak and squeeze your hands that you have made a favorable impression. Teachers in the audience come up to say they feel inspired.

But  they know that it is not about me.

I let the liberator and the survivor do the talking (see link below), then spoke about our obligations as the new witnesses to carry on the story.

Of course the event is about those who perished. But we must listen while we can to the survivors and become the new witnesses.

For those of you who came out, I re-post the narrative here-scroll down to the bottom for the NPR story, in 3 parts, from You Tube.   To those of you who may be curious, do it. You don’t even have to watch, just turn it up and listen. Set aside a few moments of time to recall, together, the moment of liberation and the aftermath.

But also remember that if we let the liberator’s final message go by the wayside [part 3], then we have learned nothing. Our kids, our students deserve better. Trust me, if you are an educator, or an educational administrator {my emphasis} puzzled with how to get kids to DO ANYTHING for you, they will respond for you with this, if presented correctly.

And as a final aside, the three candles pictured above, Red, White, and Blue, are for

Major Clarence Benjamin,

Dr. (SGT) George C. Gross, tank commander,

and Judge (SGT) Carrol S. Walsh, tank commander.

I kept alive their stories tonight.

Thanks to survivor Bruria Falik for thinking of this, in addition to the six candles for the millions lost and the candle for the 2nd generation. It was my honor to explain their significance. To those of you who offered your support and feedback, in person or on line, thank you. It is what I kind of need sometimes to know that I am making a difference.

Feel free to leave response!


April 7, 2013

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Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945. — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Soon after liberation, surviving children of the Auschwitz camp walk out of the children’s barracks. Poland, after January 27, 1945. — United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day Soviet troops over ran Auschwitz in 1945. This week I received a note from an Israeli survivor friend, shortly after the passing of one of her liberators, Carrol Walsh. Sara lost over 60 of her family there- and her immediate family was saved only because the day they arrived at Auschwitz, the death machinations were working at full capacity and her transport was rerouted to Belsen. She was liberated on 13 April on the evacuation transport near Farsleben, known here as the Train Near Magdeburg…

In her letter she asks important questions of me. I have responded the best that I could, below.

Dear Matthew,

 We were very sad to hear that Carrol Walsh passed away. Only lately did I get to know him, and he risked his life in order to save ours. It is a pity we did not get to meet more.

I can’t express in words the loving feelings for the young tank commander that for sure always had a smile on his face, and never stopped smiling after we met- 65 years after the victory. I am sure Carrol Walsh made the best out of his life; I was fulfilled to know him and his beautiful family.

I read about his profession in the years of his life. It was interesting to see how much meeting with us affected him.

I thank you for your unusual courage to initiate the exciting meeting [reunion].

I suppose you were very excited for the event you had initiated. Did the idea come in different parts? I am trying to understand the development of your thinking.
When you first wrote to me about the meeting [invitation to the proposed reunion], it was on the day we were released- the 13th of April. I got home after meeting my brothers and celebrating the release [liberation]day. I couldn’t relax, I immediately told all my brothers. I was so happy, as if it was happening again.

The meeting completed a missing part in the picture for me, after all the horrifying things we went through we couldn’t even dream of a miracle like that coming out of the blue.

I cannot go back more to the extermination camps and escort groups because I don’t have the physical nor mental power to do that anymore.

There are questions that bother me.

Are you able to answer them?

Why shouldn’t the world forget and let this be over?  

A. So, some people do want to forget. Others will say that it did not happen. For those reasons, it must never be forgotten. This is the biggest crime in the history of the world.

As Walsh states, how could humanity have stood by and let that happen?

Does my work, the hard work I do, do anything against the forgetting?

A.The most impressionable minds in the world are those of the youth. It is they who the Nazis “educated”; it made it easier for the crimes to be committed. This is why they must hear now.

The work that you, and I do, has an impression. I hope to continue this work after you must slow down. Please remember that.


You are a historian, should the memory be kept?

A.The memory must be kept. As educators it is our duty to keep it alive. We must fight those who trivialize or denigrate its importance.

Is there a proper way to keep the memory?

A.There is no one way except to be open to the discussion of humanity and how humans could do this to one another. We must also bear in mind however, that the soldiers who helped the suffering to new life bore their own pains in doing so, yet also made a choice to redeem humanity. Some did not sleep soundly for years.

I think this is so, and also must not be forgotten. The war brought out the most evil in the world. But I think it also revealed some goodness in the form of the soldiers who liberated or otherwise cared for the victims.

Who should be documenting everything, the “victim” or the “aggressor”?

A.The aggressor fades from memory. New generations asks questions. It is true that some are bothered by the questions. But the young will always be curious and want to know- is this a stain on the German people? I know some Germans today who work very hard to keep the memory alive, as you also do.

The victims give the testimony. This is all they can do. But it is the evidence of the crime, and one that new generations must work with. That is why your work is so important.

Who is in charge of making the conclusions?

A.I would say that institutions such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem are the world leaders in this area. I have been trained, well, I should hope, by the USHMM. I do not know enough about the German institutions but I hope to raise enough funds to travel to the camps and study there this summer.

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West Ham send message to racist fans with Holocaust ceremony

Auschwitz survivor will lead pre-match ritual following anti-Semitic chants at Tottenham

Darren Richman /The Independent

Friday, 18 January 2013

West Ham will commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day today at Upton Park with a reminder to sections of their support that anti-Semitic chanting is unacceptable. The club have invited the Football Association chairman, David Bernstein, the Mayor of Newham and Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper to attend the match against Queen’s Park Rangers and mark the occasion by lighting candles before kick-off. Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has written a piece in the programme emphasising the fact that sport can be a force for good in helping erase all forms of prejudice.

West Ham’s decision to honour the victims of the Holocaust in this manner is particularly admirable given the events that marred their trip to Tottenham in November. A vocal minority of fans engaged in abusive chanting and made hissing sounds to emulate the gas chambers. Shipper feels that education is the key.

“A lot of these people don’t know any Jewish people,” he said. “They don’t really know what a Jew is. They don’t realise the full scale of what happened. Six million Jews were murdered along with Gypsies, homosexuals and the physically and mentally handicapped. All just because of who they were.

“I have gone to many matches but never heard anything like that which was heard at White Hart Lane. I know for certain that I would have left the ground immediately if I’d been there. When I got off the boat and arrived in this country as a boy, I never imagined anything like that would happen.”

Shipper, 83, was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in his teens and witnessed countless horrors. “I saw women and babies shot dead,” he said. “Every day I ask myself how human beings could possibly behave that way and then sit down with their wife and children. How could they eat dinner? How could they listen to music?”

Shipper settled in London shortly after the war and started his own stationery company, which is still active today. Most of his time now, however, is spent educating young people.

He said: “I travel round the country visiting schools and universities and share my story. It is important that people understand what millions of us went through. I don’t want the Holocaust to be forgotten because there is always the danger of history repeating itself.”

Of recent racist incidents in football, including Milan’s decision to walk off during a game, he said: “Is walking off letting the racists win? It’s hard to say but I would probably have done the same.”

Shipper has already been involved in spreading his word to football: he addressed the England squad before they departed for Euro 2012.

“I have met Prime Ministers and the Queen but being asked to speak to the players was the greatest honour of my life,” Shipper said. “All I kept thinking was that it’s not bad for a little Polish immigrant who came to this country with nothing more than the clothes he was wearing.”


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Holocaust survivor recalls kindness of US troops

Another survivor of the train near Magdeburg appears. International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2012. I hope she finds her way to this site so she can meet her actual liberators! Thanks for Leslie Meisels for tipping us off to the article. Aliza’s memoir of life in the Warsaw Ghetto and beyond is very moving and can be found here.

By GIL SHEFLER 01/27/2012 00:34

“The American soldiers didn’t know what to do and they showered us with chocolates and cigarettes.”

Aliza Vitis-Shomron on Thursday vividly recalled her brush with death on the eve of her liberation from the Nazis in 1945.

The survivor, who spoke on a panel at the Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Holocaust Museum the day before the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, said a rumor had spread among the group of Jewish prisoners she was part of in Poland that they were about to be murdered.

Rather than surrendering them to the Allies closing in from the east and west, the prisoners feared their captors were planning to plunge their train into the Elbe River and drown everyone.

“Panic and fear spread quickly,” recalled the Polish-born Israeli who survived the Warsaw Ghetto and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. “Just as we were at the point of despair, two American tanks came rolling down a hill and saved us.”

The feeble Jewish prisoners emerged from the train and embraced the stunned soldiers of the US 30th Armored Division.

the tank commanders who freed her.

“We were crying with joy,” she said. “The American soldiers didn’t know what to do and they showered us with chocolates and cigarettes.”

Vitis-Shomron said she did not feel that she had defeated the Nazis.

“I did not triumph,” said Vitis-Shomron, an educator who has four great-grandchildren.

“What happened accompanies me, but I try to live and live well. I try to teach humanitarian values to our youths. We must never do upon others what was done to us.”

The panel Vitis-Shomron was part of at Yad Mordechai, the kibbutz named after the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Mordechai Anielewicz), included Simcha “Kojak” Rotem, who fought in the uprising, and former defense minister Moshe Arens.

It was one of many events held in Israel and around the world commemorating the remembrance day.

On Wednesday, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris and members of the newly formed World Forum of Russian Jewry met at United Nations headquarters to honor the memory of those killed by the Nazis.

The AJC head said the lesson learned from the murder of six million Jews required the world to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities.

“This past September, indeed on these grounds, the notorious Holocaust denier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, spoke,” Harris said. “To their credit, several UN member ambassadors walked out, but, shamefully, the majority stayed in the General Assembly hall and applauded his remarks.”

The president of the World Forum of Russian Jewry, Ukrainian businessman Alexander Levin, joined the call urging the UN to take action against the Islamic Republic.

More Holocaust memorial events are planned for Israel and around the world on Friday.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and ambassadors from more than a dozen countries including Germany, the US, Egypt and the Philippines are set to gather at the Massuah Institute for Holocaust Studies at Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak near Netanya to take part in a memorial ceremony.

The UN designated January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005. It is marked by governments and organizations around the world.

Israel, however, observes its official Holocaust Remembrance Day on the 26th of Nissan, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, according to the Jewish calendar. Its selection reflects the Jewish state’s preference to emphasize Jewish resistance to the Nazis.


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Quotes from American Soldiers/Holocaust Survivors Reunion   9/22-26/09

Compiled by Mrs. Hales, English teacher, Hudson Falls High School.

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Credit Matthew Rozell and World War II Living History Project/Teaching History Matters. .. If re-posting  include the link, https://teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com.

  • “How could we [the world] have stood by and let that happen to them?  We owe them.”   Carrol Walsh, 743rd Tank Battalion, Liberator
  • “I often wonder what this world would be like if those 6 million had never perished.”  Frank Towers, 30th Infantry Division, Liberator
  • “Against all odds I am standing here before you.”  Steven Barry, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary, Florida)
  • “I tell my story so that they might tell the next generation.”  Sara Atzmon, Holocaust Survivor, artist, (Hungary, Israel)
  • “Love gives us wings to soar above it all.”  Sara Atzmon, Holocaust Survivor, artist, (Hungary, Israel)
  • “Hatred is something we must fight against.”  Leslie Meisels, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary, Toronto)
  • “Silence helps the oppressors.” Leslie Meisels, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary, Toronto)
  • “I tell my story so that it won’t become your future.”  Leslie Meisels, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary, Toronto)
  • “We cannot be lax at all.  We must keep the faith.  We must tell others.”  Buster Simmons, Chaplain, 30th Infantry Division Veterans of WWII.
  • “I’m listed as a liberator, but I’m a survivor of WWII.”  William Gast, 743rd Tank Battalion
  • “We keep the faith.”  Motto of the 743rd Tank Battalion
  • “Freedom is not free; there is a high price tag attached.”  William Gast, 743rd Tank Battalion
  • “We must ever be thankful [for our freedom].  We must NEVER take freedom for granted.”  William Gast, 743rd Tank Battalion
  • “After they gave us back our lives, we needed to live each day.”  Paul Arato, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary;  Toronto, Canada)
  • “I live some of the horrors of 65 years ago everyday.”  Paul Arato, Holocaust Survivor, (Hungary;  Toronto, Canada)
  • “You have the power to heal the world.”  Lev Raphael, son of Holocaust survivors
  • “Don’t be a bystander.”  Mr. Rozell, see below.

Credit Matthew Rozell and World War II Living History Project/Teaching History Matters. .. If re-posting  include the link, https://teachinghistorymatters.wordpress.com.

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